Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella) album review
He's finally sorted his life out and is back on fine - if slightly odd - form, with a little help from his A-list friends
Kanye West: douchebag, enemy of the state, incurable gobshite who’s annoyed more American presidents than Fidel Castro. A man with a head so unfeasibly smooth, it looks like he’s slowly evolving into a Madame Tussauds effigy of himself.
For better or worse, he’s also the pop star for our morally implicated times; an instinctive consumer with a mouthful of diamonds and furtive bad conscience, a performer who lives the American dream to its fullest with a creeping sense of the spiritual void at its heart.
‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ captures that essence in full. It’s an utterly dazzling portrait of a 21st-century schizoid man that is by turns sickeningly egocentric, contrite, wise, stupid and self-mocking.
Reportedly a cool $3million in the making and with a stellar cast comprising the great and good of 2010’s musical establishment – plus Fergie from Black Eyed Peas – it’s an epically conceived song-suite, a titanic wrestling with music’s most colossal ego that effortlessly engages its hype as the most feverishly anticipated record of the year. It’s a world away from the indifferent reception afforded to ‘808s & Heartbreak’, a brave but unloveable record of synth-drenched introspection dealing with Kanye’s split from Alexis Phifer in 2008 and the tragic death of his mother, who died following cosmetic surgery.
‘My Beautiful…’ kicks off proceedings with a suitable sense of what’s at stake here; a tense, string-laden affair with Kanye musing how “the plan was to drink until the pain was over/But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” There’s more trouble at hand with Kid Cudi collaboration ‘Gorgeous’’s slouching guitars but Kanye relocates his funny bone with lines like: “This week has been a bad massage/I need a happy ending”.
Then the record’s first real moment of catharsis arrives in the shape of the gladiatorial ‘Power’, whose tribal fanfare and supercharged lyric seems to imagine in advance Kanye’s warm welcome into heaven: “I guess every superhero need his theme music”.
‘All Of The Lights’ is the sleb-studded centrepiece, with a credit list including Rihanna, Elton John, Alicia Keys, John Legend, The-Dream, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Ryan Leslie, Charlie Wilson, Tony Williams and La Roux’s Elly Jackson. In anyone else’s hands it’d be an A-list circle-jerk of horrid proportions, but through Kanye’s bar-raising vision it becomes a truly wondrous thing, all Rocky-apeing brass flourishes and epileptic drum’n’bass breaks.
Elsewhere, ‘Monster’ proves a riotous bit of respite, Yeezy sending up his rep with a self-mocking diatribe about drowning his pain in a blizzard of blow jobs and mass adulation (beats Prozac, we suppose) while Nicki Minaj sets the dials to ‘ridiculous’ with a fire-breathing, raga-inflected verse.
Kanye raises a trip-hoppy toast to the douchebags of the world on ‘Runaway’ – generously remembering to include himself – before finally squaring up to some uncomfortable home truths: “Never was much of a romantic/I could never take the intimacy/And I know it did damage/’Cos the look in your eyes is killin’ me”.
But it’s ‘Lost In The World’ that provides the heart-rending highlight, chasing down Yeezy’s soul past velvet ropes and jaded afterparties as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon reprises an autotuned vocal from last year’s ‘Blood Bank’ to quite brilliant effect. Segueing into a coda which samples Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Comment #1’, it frames Kanye’s inner demons in a universal way, recasting Vernon’s semi-mythical woodland retreat as his own cipher for spiritual replenishment.
If ‘808s & Heartbreak’ was the wilderness period, then by extension ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ is Kanye’s entry into Jerusalem, on a jet-propelled donkey with chrome-plated hooves. It’s the best thing he’s done since his game-changing debut, and heartening evidence to suggest the self-professed Louis Vuitton don is in a good place right now. You’d be mad not to follow him.